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Towards Day 19 (Wed, Apr. 2): The Lives of Animals

Anne Dalke's picture

I. Coursekeeping
starting on time....?!

Fri's field trip to Chanticleer,
that "whimsical pleasure garden in Wayne"
HAS BEEN CANCELLED, but you should still plan a jaunt with your friends
Take the Paoli Local WEST 5 stops to Wayne, then walk (or bike?) 1 1/2 miles south to the garden.
It's open 10-5, Wednesday through Sunday--til 8 on Fridays--and costs $10.
I betcha our budget would cover the jaunt if one or several of you want to go....

Welcoming Celine Anderson, a prospective student from Roanoke, Va
--tell us what you are looking for?
--and what do we want Celine to know about BMC?

Monday's class was an important one in the trajectory of this course (and cluster?)
The first section of this class—you may remember?--
was about the "danger of a single story":
stories about home morphed into stories of exile;
foregrounds and backgrounds shifted, under Paula Gunn Allen's direction;
tales became more "porous" to alternative readings.

This second section of course was designed around the counter-question:
“how much latitude can we allow?” If a single story is dangerous--
if we should always be on the look out for alternative interpretations--
can we have too wide a range of stories? Is there a danger in "too much latitude"?
It was in this regard that I felt our last conversation was significant.

It was Simona who really “called the question,"
on the need to present data on climate change clearly and forcefully.
But of course she was also simultaneously testifying to the ineffectiveness of doing so—
the sense of paralysis that people and policy makers haven’t responded
in effective ways to this clear narrative.

On one level--the level of concrete subject/topic--
we are clearly/wildly/wierdly shifting focus today;
we're not talking about climate change any more,
but rather about vegetarianism.

On another level, of course, we are as clearly continuing Monday’s conversation,
thinking together about how most effectively to issue the call on compelling social issues:
the question on the table is how to get others to hear, and respond appropriately,
to issues that we ourselves feel and see so clearly, but which do not compel them.

As if things weren't complicated enough already, the editor
has added another whole layer in the second ½ of the book,
by offering us four different commentators--
a literary critic, a philosopher, a religious scholar and a primotologist--
each reflecting from her own perspective on Coetzee's fiction.
We'll talk today about what a fiction accomplishes that can't be achieved w/ a polemical text;
and on Monday about what additional dimensions the commentaries contribute to this project.
(Why are they needed, in this "ecosystem"?) Finish the book by Monday.

By 5 p.m. on Sunday, post your own reflections on one of the central questions it raises:
what does it tell us about the possibility that vegetarians and meat-eaters
(or anyone w/ decidedly opposed views)
can actually enter into productive dialogue?
Are the divisions so deep that common academic training,
common culture, or even familial ties can not bridge the gap?
Think of this as a warming-up for your next paper, due the next weekend:
“how much latitude can we allow”? At what point do we "call the question"?
I will post that question and ask you to respond to it as a comment--
or comment on each other's comments; that way we can have a thread
separated from the post Jody's requiring, reflecting on outdoor educational spaces.

II. Coetzee's story (as you know) is the account of a present-day prophet,
but it does not tell us how we should respond to her. In fact, it very much
"refracts" her story, which is told by her son, resisted by several others--
in exploring some of the complexities of taking a stand,
it certainly lacks the clarity of the hockey stick graph.
So one big question here is why do it like this? Why use this form?

The editor/introducer of Coetzee's text is Amy Gutmann, the
political theorist who is now president of UPenn. She explains
that when Coetzee was invited to give the Tanner lectures @ Princeton, he
substituted a fictional form for the philosophical essay that was expected.
What were your reactions to this project?
How did it "act on"/move you?
What puzzled you about it?

Let's dig into the book:
write out, in color, on a sheet of paper a quotation that
(for whatever reason) you find striking. Choose a passage
that you think merits further discussion.

Put these in the center of the circle. Pick up
one, and (in silence) comment (in pen) on the quotation.
Return it to the pile, and pick up another. You can
write a comment on the quote you selected (after
someone else has), or write a second time in
response to what someone else has said....

Now: retrieve your quote. Read the commentary....
What do you think? Any new angles of vision...?
What do we see/are we highlighting/do we want to discuss?

III. Moving up a level of abstraction, to "form"
* why does Coetzee use the genre he uses?
* what does a fiction accomplish that a polemical text does not?
* what is the function of the "frame tale" (the son's perspective?)
* how does it matter that he's a physicist?
* what is the relation between the "philosophers" and the "poets" sections?
* what are the bounds of the imagination in this text?